A Poetic Storyteller

To hear a noted, contemporary writer read aloud and discuss his own work is a rare opportunity – one that the Middlesex community was treated to on October 4, when English Professor Tomás Morín addressed the School. As a featured speaker during the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Professor Morín shared four of his poems and the inspiration behind them, as well as his thoughts on the development and purpose of his writing.

The author of the collection of poems Machete and the memoir Let Me Count the Ways, as well as the poetry collections Patient Zero and A Larger Country, Professor Morín is co-editor with Mari L’Esperance of the anthology, Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine, and translator of The Heights of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda. He teaches at both Rice University and Vermont College of Fine Arts and has merited fellowships from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and, most recently, the Guggenheim Foundation.

Referring to the observation of writer Gabriel García Márquez that all people “have three lives – public, private, and secret,” Professor Morín disclosed, “One of the things I’ve been working on is trying to honor my secret life, to share it in a way that is meaningful to others.” To illustrate, he read his poem “I Sing the Body Aquatic,” which many Middlesex English classes had studied prior to his visit. After explaining a particular genetic condition that he lives with, Professor Morín reflected, “The poem came from a place of trying to embrace this thing that I had been embarrassed about…. It’s a way to share and honor it, and keep it secret – though, now you know!”

Other poems are related to the “silly questions that pass through our minds,” he continued – thoughts that people often chuckle at and let pass. “One of the sources of my art is taking a pause and thinking of those questions as an invitation to play, to be silly,” Professor Morín said. He then read “Sartana and Machete in Outer Space,” his imaginative foray into the universe of the Machete films by director Robert Rodriguez.

His path to becoming a poet was not a predetermined one. Professor Morín related that, as a child, he had wanted to be a cartoonist. Though a talented copyist of the Peanuts comic strip, he couldn’t create original Charlie Brown images and decided that meant he would have to become something else. “There may be dreams that you have let go,” he told Middlesex students, and advised, “It’s never too late, and also dreams can come back. What is a poem but a little story? So, as a poet, I ended up writing little stories, just not in a Sunday paper.”

Professor Morín concluded his talk by reading two contrasting “sister poems”: the brief “Machete” and lengthier “Machetes.” Both reactions to white supremacy, they raised a question about whether anger or humor was the better method for exposing racism and calling for change. Echoing a phrase from the latter poem, he told students to remember that “you are all beautiful life machines” and to “celebrate that every day.” Afterwards, Professor Morín visited English classes and met with students during lunch, giving many the chance to ask questions and share their thoughts in person.